Greg Bassett: Reflections on a changing profession

The author proofing a Daily Times editorial page in 1989.

We’re hearing a lot about changes these days in the newspaper/news media industry. As readers, we see those changes every day; as professional participants, it’s darn difficult not to long for the old days.

A friend who teaches a journalism regimen at one of those gigantic universities across the bay told me her students remain fascinated by war stories and remembrances of news dinosaurs such as me. She asked for a list she might share with her students, who might benefit from knowing where we came from, so they can help decide where it’s all going.

Here are some of my firsts, worsts and bests:

  • First printed photo: A neighbor bought a snowmobile for Christmas, tried to use it in about 3 inches of snowfall, wrecked spectacularly, and I took a photo of the busted snowmobile and paramedics who came to save him.
  • First byline: On the snowmobile shot. John Bozman deemed the photo worthy enough to declare at the bottom: “Times Photo By Greg Bassett.” (Less-worthy efforts, back then, were labeled “Times Photo.”)
  • First headline I ever wrote (for the business page): “Bonds fall at auction.”
  • First enterprise-news package I ever wrote: Three stories (a mainbar, two sidebars) on dredging difficulties in the Ocean City Inlet.
  • First reader phone call of complaint: From the Army Corps of Engineers — the dredging story (above) contained channel erosion-rate numbers that were “merely the opinion of the dredge operators.”
  • First accidental insult of something I had in the paper: I saw a table of oldsters at English’s pointing to a photo I took of jetty rocks being hauled in Ocean City. “That’s not news,” said one man. “That’s the stupidest picture ever,” I heard another say.
  • First threat: A man called to say he would commit suicide if I printed his DUI arrest. I apologized, but told him I had no choice. (I learned later this is a fairly common threat experience among editors.)
  • Worst moment covering a public meeting: Home from college in January 1981, filling in as a stringer covering Worcester County Commissioners, a morning snowstorm had created a circumstance in which I was the only member of the public in the room. The then-five-member board (with one member absent) was deadlocked 2-2 on some matter I can’t recall now. Commissioner Bozman declared: “Let the Bassett kid break the tie — he’s a know-it-all after all.” Commissioners President Roland “Fish” Powell gave me a sort of blank look, so from my front-row seat I started in with my thoughts. It was either County Attorney Ed Hammond or Administrator John Yankus who immediately cut me off with a jarring: “Hold your tongue, son!”
  • First time I cried while writing a news story: Christmas Day 1987, writing the obituary for a 15-year-old Accomac girl who had died of leukemia that morning.
  • Best quote I didn’t have the guts to print: Freshman Sussex County Councilman George B. Cole Jr., commenting on some belligerent conduct from a council colleague: “Well, of course, he’s drunk. He’s drunk at all of our meetings.”
  • Best headline “save” from a press operator: Back-shop folks weren’t expected to catch errors, but I was relieved when one stopped the press to correct my story about an upcoming “public meeting” that had a key letter missing.
  • Best advice from an editor (after seeing a printed typo): “Forget about it, no one probably read it anyway.”
  • Worst advice from an editor: “Forget about it, probably no one read it anyway.”
  • Worst error I ever let through: It was in a brief item about a waterman on a workboat who got “his hand caught in a wench.”
  • Worst headline I ever wrote: “Missing body linked to landlady.” (For a national story about a caretaker who hid bodies to keep receiving their Social Security checks.)
  • Worst secondary (drop) headline I ever wrote: “Temperatures expected to reach double-digits today.” (The forecast was temps of 100 or above; I was accidentally correct though, as it only reached 99 degrees that day.)
  • Second worst headline: “MLKing Day is celebrated.” (People read it as ‘Milking Day; and not Martin Luther King Day.)

Upon further review, it’s seeming like the old days are only a list of negatives. Let’s look to a new, and better future.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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